Tuesday, January 18, 2011

There's a mouse in the house!

I was alone.  It was me, and my boys, against the world.  I pretended like I was empowered, like I could handle anything that came my way.  But I really couldn't.

Thankfully, my neighbors were able to keep my secret.  Christy and Rob, who lived behind me, were a godsend.  If something broke, I called Rob.  If I felt like I was on the edge of a breakdown, I called Christy.  To this day, they are more than my best friends, they are my family.  Rob has fixed broken drawers, moved heavy furniture, and saved me from scary situations.... like a mouse in the house.

I hate mice.  Mice are evil, demented, and disgusting.  Yes, I am an animal lover.  And yes, I know that they are harmless.  But I still can't stand them.  So when I spotted that small, furry, devil animal run across my bedroom floor as I was getting ready for bed one night I screamed bloody murder.

It was a reflex.  The scream came out of me, and I couldn't control it.  (Kind of like when the doctor hits your knee with that hammer tool... pure reflex)  Soon the entire house was alive and LOUD.  Joe (at about age 5, he was no longer JR, he insisted on being called Joe) and Shane both woke up.  Shane started screaming because I was screaming, Joe was running in circles crying because he had no idea why I was jumping on the bed crying.... yes.... crying.  And Magnum just barked at me.

I pulled the boys up on the bed with me and called Rob and Christy.... I could hardly talk, but eventually they understood what was happening.  Christy calmed me down, and sent Rob over to my house.  When he walked through the door he saw the boys and me crying on my bed, and Magnum going crazy, jumping up and down barking.  He did a quick inspection, and noticed that I had a gap next to the pipes under my master bedroom sink.  That was how the devil mouse got in.  "We need to put foam in that space, but we have to do it tomorrow.....everything is closed right now.  Are you going to be okay?"

I nodded.  "I guess so... what about the mouse.  I don't know where he went."

"We will have to get a mouse trap or D-con.  Will you be okay for tonight?  If you get those tomorrow, I can set them for you.  But you will have to live with it for tonight."

I just stared at him.  Is he kidding me?  That mouse might crawl up my bed.  He might bite me or the boys in the middle of the night and then we will have rabies.  Then what?

"Come on, Leslie.  You can do this."

FINE.  Fine.  Yes I can do this.  But I am not happy about it. After Rob left, I shook out the sheets on my tiptoes... because for some reason I felt safer without my feet flat on the floor.  No mice in the bed.  Good.  Joe and Shane got into my bed, and before I got into bed I made sure that the sheets were not touching the floor..... just in case the mouse thought it would fun to climb up the sheets and attack us while we were sleeping.

Needless to say, I don't think I slept that night.  Every sound, every movement, I pictured the mouse with his giant fangs trying to attack my dog in order to get to us.  When Magnum moved, I waited in anticipation, hoping he would turn into a mouse hunter and save us.  Never happened.  Magnum snored loudly that night, as I watched the clock, waiting for it to be a good time to wake up the boys so we could go to the store to arm ourselves with every and any kind of of mouse killing apparatus.... and the foam to fill in the gaps around the bathroom plumbing.

Finally, that time came.  I didn't even shower.  (After all the bathroom was infested by rodents)  We got into the car and went to the store.  I bought mouse traps, rat/rodent poison, and foam.  When we got home, I left the boys in the car while I gingerly tiptoed inside to get the phone. I brought the phone outside and called Rob.

"I've got it all.  And we will be outside...I can't go in there."

We waited in the driveway for Rob.  My next door neighbor was weeding his garden when he saw us.  "Hey Leslie!"

"Hi there," I replied.  "Bob...I have a question for you.  Do you have any problem with mice?"

He looked at me, smiling.  "This is just a bad area for mice, with the wetlands and all.  But let me show you something... they aren't really mice, though.  They are shrews."

Bob took me to the area between our houses.  "See those holes.... I have seen mice and shrews living under your house."

I didn't live in a stick built home.  I live in a glorified double-wide trailer.  There is just open space between my floorboards and the ground underneath.  I stared at the dozens of holes going between the ground and the siding.... you have got to be kidding me.  This was a rodent metropolis.  I was dizzy and disgusted.  "Thanks for letting me know," I stammered.

I quickly got a couple boxes of the rat/rodent poison out of the car... I bought ten boxes, just in case.  Thank god I did!  While the boys played in the driveway with Magnum, I went to work.  I think I put down three boxes of the poison along the side of the house.  I filled up all of the holes.  This was my house!  I am taking it back!

By that time, Rob came over.  He set my traps, filled the gaps with foam, and put poison under the bathroom sink for extra measure.  Magnum, Shane, Joe and I decided to spend the day outside.  I set up the tee ball in the back,and I got the kiddy pool out.  Rob and Christy came over while the boys were playing in the pool.  As we sat in lawn chairs and laughed about the night before, we saw Magnum pounce on something.

It was a shrew!  For those that don't know the difference between mice and shrews, shrews are an uglier, even more evil version of a mouse.

He caught it!  Disgusting and nasty, but I have to say I was so proud.  Christy and Rob burst out laughing, I screamed... just a little that time.  Magnum proceeded to catch it, in his mouth, let it go... then when it tried to run off, he caught it again.  Magnum thought it was a toy!  This game of dog and mouse went on for at least 10 minutes.  We were laughing so hard, even the boys came over to see what this crazy dog was doing.  Then, suddenly, the shrew just stopped moving.  He probably died of a massive heart attack, because this giant dog wouldn't leave him alone.  Then Magnum laid down with his snout next to the shrew, trying to nudge it back to life.  Finally, when he realized it wasn't going to "play" with him anymore, he lifted his head and looked at us with his big, droopy, sad eyes.

That is when we all started laughing.  The thought of this huge 100 lb labrador feeling so sad because he accidentally killed his new pet, was just hysterical!

Finally, late that afternoon, Rob checked the traps inside the house.  There it was, the lone mouse who attacked us so viciously (in my mind) the night before.  I was a little sad as Rob walked back to his house with the trap, I almost felt guilty.  It really was just a tiny little mouse.  But I was so relieved to have my house back!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Magnum the Protector

It was bound to happen.  Matt and I were like oil and water, and the longer we were together the worse it was becoming.  The fighting was constant, and had become worse after I left my job at the resort.  In August of 2001, we separated.

The separation was my idea, and I will not deny that.  I had many reasons, including the total disrespect that Matt had for me.  He just wasn't a nice guy if he wasn't getting his way, or if things were not going the way he had planned.

It was a late night, about a month after Matt moved out, when I heard someone pull into the drive way.  I was sitting on the couch with Magnum next to me.  Magnum immediately went to the door and barked once.  Then there was a knock on the door.  I unlocked the deadbolt and opened the door slightly, at 5'2" I was too short to see out of the peephole.  It was Matt.  We were really trying to get along at this point in the separation, so I had no problem allowing him into the house.

Once I did, and he started talking, I realized I made a huge mistake.  He was drunk.  And under the influence of Bacardi, his verbal abuse had occasionally become physical.

"I need to see the boys," he said.

"Matt, it is almost 1am... no, you can come over tomorrow to see them."

"You know this is all your fault.  You are keeping me away from them on purpose!"  His voice had gotten loud, and I knew he was going to get out of hand.  I didn't want to risk the boys waking up to the sound of us fighting again.

"No I am not, and you need to leave.  You can see them tomorrow."  I put my hand on his arm to try to push him toward the door.

I don't really remember how the next part played out.  I just remember that he was yelling at me as I was trying to get him out of the front door.  I never saw it coming.  With a closed fist he hit me across the right side of my face.  Magnum barked as I looked up at him in surprise.  All of the pushing and shoving and grabbing that had happened before, he never hit my face.  And as I looked up at him, I never saw his raise his other fist.

The pain was so intense, and somehow I was on the floor.  Out of nowhere, Magnum was suddenly standing over me.  The growls that were coming out of him were nothing I had ever heard before.  Matt reached down toward me, possibly to help me off of the floor.... but as his hand went down toward my crumpled body, Magnum latched on to his forearm with his teeth.  He kept shaking his head with Matt's arm in his mouth, an action I had only seen on police dog documentaries.  He tore through the fabric of Matt's shirt, and I really don't know how bad the bite tore his skin.  Matt finally broke free from Magnum's grip and ran out of the house.

I just laid there, crying.  Magnum laid down next to me and licked the tears coming from my eyes.  I couldn't believe what just happened.  I heard Matt's truck leave my driveway, and I know I should have called the police, but I just couldn't move.  I don't know how long I was on the floor... but Magnum never left my side.

Magnum was the kindest, gentlest dog I had ever known.  Prior to that night, I always questioned what would happen if we really needed him to protect us.  I had visions of him running up to an intruder, wagging his tail and expecting a treat.  After that night, though, I knew he would protect me and the boys with his own life.  I felt comfort in that.  And there was never any more incidents between Matt and myself after that night.  Suddenly the "dumb ass dog" (as Matt used to call him) had the upper hand.

That night gave me strength as well.  I no longer felt alone.  There were many days before that night that I wondered if I was making the right decision.... wondered if I was ready for the struggle as a single mom.  Magnum gave me strength that night.  And I knew that he wouldn't let anything happen to me.  Magnum was my dog.  My protector.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Hey batter batter!!

When Shane was about a year old, I left my wonderful job at the Grand Traverse Resort.  I didn't really want to leave, but I also didn't feel like I had a choice.  My hours would often stretch to 60 or more per week, and the boys were in day care for much of that.  Matt was working nights as a bartender, and that helped with the child care situation.

But there came a day when Matt wanted to go back to his chosen profession.  Matt was a chef by trade, and a very VERY talented one.  But the problem was, with every executive chef position Matt held in our married life, it never lasted more than 6 months.  So when Matt told me he was interviewing for an executive chef position at a golf course over an hour away, I was apprehensive.  Then when he got the position, I was panicked.  With the hours that he was working, plus the drive time, plus the hours I had to work... the kids would spend all of their time in daycare.  So after much discussion, I decided to quit my job.  I would have preferred not to, because I was making very good money and had great benefits.  But I also felt that it was time for Matt to step up to the plate, and try to support us.  I was hoping this time, it would last.

So I quit my job.  I did start a home business making jewelry and selling at art fairs, but for those first few months after leaving the resort, I just enjoyed the boys.  It was summer in northern Michigan, we spent a lot of time at the beach or at the neighborhood pool.  We also spent a lot of time playing outside in the back yard.

There were several kids in the neighborhood now.  Heather lived behind me, Jill was next door, and Heathers step brother Robert had just moved in to live with his dad.  Our corner of the neighborhood had become very close knit.  We are constantly getting together for anything and everything.  And all of the older kids loved to come to my house because of the boys and because of Magnum.  Heather and Jill would come over just to play with the boys or play ball with Magnum in the back yard.

I had bought a tee ball set for JR that summer.  He was five years old, and thought it was great fun!  He would hit the ball and Magnum would bring it back for him.  They would play like that for hours.  Well, after a few weeks, this game between a boy and his dog attracted the attention of the older kids in the neighborhood.  Tee-ball became a nightly ritual.  And it was all the kids versus Magnum.

The rules were simple.  Magnum was always the infield.  The kids took turns hitting the ball and running bases.  If they hit the ball, and Magnum brought it back to the tee before they ran around the bases, then they were out.  If they circled the bases before Magnum brought it back, then they scored.  The kids would play this for hours, and rarely score.... even if they hit it in the woods next to the house.  Magnum always found the ball and brought it back!

Eventually the game became so popular that some of the neighbors would bring lawn chairs over just to watch.  We would sit and watch, have a couple beers, and enjoy the summer evenings.  Magnum loved the attention, and we loved to see him get it!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Baby's first words

Shane and Magnum - June 2010

Every mother imagines their baby's first words.  "Mama"

Not my baby.

Nor was I the object of my baby's attention.  No, Shane was not an ordinary baby.  Shane loved me.  But he loved me second.  The object of my baby's attention, affection... my baby's security blanket... was not me.  Nor was it my husband, or my older son.  Nope.  Shane's little baby world revolved around one thing.  Magnum.

From the moment Magnum first saw Shane, the feeling was mutual.  I have never seen a bond between a baby and a dog, like theirs.  Magnum was never more than a few feet from Shane.  He slept when Shane slept and sat vigil when Shane was awake.  And if Magnum dared to wander away from Shane while he was napping, Shane was wake up with a jolt and a scream.  It was like they were connected on so many more levels than the average boy and his dog.

As the months rolled on, and Shane started talking his baby talk more, I anxiously awaited the first "real" words.  He spent hours conversing with Magnum with his baby words, and Magnum listened patiently.  Shane would press his sticky fingers into Magnums eyes and nostrils, and the poor dog never flinched.  They were a pair obsessed with each other, so I shouldn't have been surprised the day that I heard those first words.


No.. not MAMA,  not DADA.... It was DAWGDAWG.

And Magnum answered to it.  The pure joy in that labradors eyes when he heard "dawgdawg" that first time, was priceless.  His puppy could talk!

I really couldn't tell you when Shane finally said "mama".  It didn't really matter.  His first word was dog.  Or more precisely "dawgdawg"  And not too much later, when I would hear Shane call his dog, it usually meant mischief.

One day, while toddling around in the kitchen, Shane spied something on the kitchen counter that he wanted.  I don't remember exactly what it was, but I remember pushing it a little further back on the counter to stay out of his reach.  He gave me this look that seemed to challenge me.  He wanted it, and he would get it.  "DAWGDAWG!!", he yelled.  Of course Magnum wasn't too far away, and reached Shane immediately.  Shane pointed to the floor... and Magnum layed down, right in front of the counter.  With a grin, Shane climbed up on Magnums back, tiny toes dug into his warm brown fur.  And what do you know?  That object was no problem for the toddler now!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The battle of the buoy

Labradors love water, and Magnum was no exception.  In fact, water was the reason for his existence.  He could chase a ball or a stick for hours in the water.  At one time, he spotted Matt across Arbutus Lake in his little fishing boat, and swam right out to the boat, and proceeded to follow it until Matt brought him back to shore.  I was laughing so hard, seeing Matt's agitated expression.  "Can you keep YOUR dog on a leash please?  How the hell am I going to catch anything with him following me like that?"

About a month after Shane was born, we decided to go on a family outing.  It was a warm day in the middle of May.  I packed some snacks for JR and a couple bottles for Shane.  We decided to take a drive up the peninsula because we thought the cherry trees would be blossoming.

We arrived at Haserot Beach a mere 40 minutes later.  I pulled the kids out of the car, while Matt let Magnum out of the back of the pickup.  Today we were planning on letting Magnum have a good spring swim, so we were extra prepared with some tennis balls and a tennis racket.

Magnum dashed right into the water and the turned to face us with an expression on his face that said "Come on guys, let one rip!"  So that is exactly what Matt did.  Matt sent those tennis balls out over and over, while JR played in the sand, and I just watched holding my new baby.  Magnum was having a blast.  He was relentless energy, and absolutely amazing to watch.

We were laughing as Matt hit one last tennis ball, maybe a little harder than the ones before.  This tennis ball went further out and hit a buoy.  I remember distinctly watching as the ball hit the buoy and bounced to the right of it.  Magnum swam straight out, and instead of going for the ball he grabbed the buoy.  He wanted to bring the buoy in!

At first it was funny, and kind of cute.  But Magnum wouldn't give up, and you could start to hear his labored breathing on the beach.  I started to panic, and debated swimming out to him.  "It's too cold, Les, you just can't go out there", Matt told me.

"We have to do something, he won't give up.  I know him.  He won't leave it alone!"

The minutes ticked by like hours, and I had to hand Shane to Matt because I was starting to cry.  JR was already crying on the beach, obviously sensing my emotions.  Suddenly a man ran up to us, and said that he was going to get his canoe.  Where did he come from?  I think I was nodding as I saw him run to a house that was next to the public beach.

I kept screaming for Magnum to come back.  "Please Magnum.... come on!   Come!  MAGNUM!"

It must have been about 15 minutes that he struggled with the buoy.  And I could tell he was actually moving it ever so slightly.  But somehow my last frantic cry for him got his attention.  He looked at me!  Then he started to swim towards the shore.  I was so relieved!  He swam halfway back, and then circled back toward the buoy.

"NO!  MAGNUM COME NOW!"  I think that command would have stopped Hitler in his tracks.

Oh thank god, he turned back around and headed towards the shore.  When he finally reached me he collapsed.  The poor thing, he was shaking so bad!  I ran to the truck and grabbed a couple towels and then ran back to my dog to try to dry him off as much as possible.  He was shivering and cold, but he was alive!  JR and I hugged him so hard.

"Let's warm up the truck", I said to Matt.

"He's riding in the back.  I don't want the inside of the truck to smell like wet dog."

I just stared at Matt.  He said that so matter of fact, so heartless.  But he said it in a way, that I knew no matter how much I would argue, I would never win.  "Fine, then lets get home quickly."

We did get home quickly, I will give Matt credit for that.  I got Magnum and the kids in the house, and made sure everyone was warm enough.  In fact when Matt left for work that night, I destinctly remember JR, Magnum, and me cuddled together on the couch under blankets.  He was still a pretty wet dog at that point, but all I cared about was that he was a warm wet dog.

And along comes a baby....

Toward the end of the summer of 2009 I found out I was pregnant.  I wasn't really sure how I felt about it, because the situation between my husband and I was tenuous at best.  Maybe this baby will make things better? I was 26 years old, and still unsure of my place in life.  And in hindsight, that was a very dumb place to be.  I was 26 years old, with an excellent job (now at the Grand Traverse Resort), I owned my own home, and had one awesome child already.  But I was full of insecurity, because I chose to listen to my husband more than I would listen to myself.  He was a 36 year old man, with a part time job, who bragged about how he married someone younger so he could retire early and I could support him.

My pregnancy was not easy.  I was sick, I was huge, and I was miserable.  Matt was a bartender and worked late nights, and I spent many of those crying into Magnums fur wondering how I got myself into all of this.  In February of 2000, about two month before I was due, I went into early labor and was put on bed rest.  I was supposed to have help at home, but Matt found more and more excuses to be away.  My bed rest consisted of trying to contain a three year old boy and young dog.... all while staying in bed?

Thankfully at the time, some new neighbors moved in.  Heather, a 10 year old girl, and her parents moved in behind me.  Heather wandered over one day, and met Joe and Magnum.  Thank god for her!  She walked Magnum for me after school, and she would play with Joe.  I couldn't really leave to meet her parents, but I thanked god everyday that she found us.

Finally, after two months of early labor, Shane Alexander was born eight days late on April 9, 2000.  I tried to do all the right things to introduce the new baby to the dog.  The first day, I sent Matt home with the baby hat the the nurse put on Shane when he was born so Magnum could get used to the smell.  When we brought him home, Magnum was intensely curious, but never once jumped or tried to lick him.  I sat in bed nursing him, and Magnum just stared at me from the foot of the bed, sizing him up it seemed.  Then when Shane fell asleep in my arms, I got up and set him down in the bassinette next to my bed.  I gave Magnum a quick pat on the head and said, "This is your baby, too."

Matt and his mom were in the kitchen making dinner, so I went to the kitchen table and sat down.  We chatted for awhile, and then I realized Magnum was nowhere to be found.  Magnum was anywhere if there was food.  I got worried and jumped up and quickly walked back into the bedroom.

There was Magnum... his head rested against the side of the bassinette, watching Shane sleeping.  He glanced at me when I walked in, as if to say, "I got this"  He agreed with me.  This was his baby.  This was his job.  He never left Shanes side after that.